Lewis & Clark Trail – Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois
Denis Kertz, ©2003
It was overcast and a bit cooler than in recent mornings. After my usual tent breakfast I packed up and left for town. My map provided a circuitous route through town, no doubt trying to minimize traffic. So I wasn’t too surprised to not see a breakfast place. After I made my way through the center of town and was ready to head south, I spotted an IHOP sign and had their multi-grain pancakes that I like.
I left just after 10:00, heading mostly south into a head wind that the newspaper forecast as 15-30 mph, not a nice forecast. I passed near the Sergeant Floyd Monument, for the only member of the Lewis & Clark expedition to die (apparently appendicitis), but didn’t know the directions so I passed on. Eventually, after some more winding through town I picked up K45 near Sergeant Bluff to Sloan. The wind was strong and I did well to manage 8 mph. It was also not a great road with no shoulder and a fair amount of traffic.
My original goal for the day was Missouri Valley but I knew the wind made that impossible at 90 miles. So I had hoped to make a campground near Little Sioux but my 8 mph pace made that questionable. After that the next option was Onawa with either a motel or a couple campgrounds nearby. That left about a 16-mile gap between with no accommodations.
It was near 2:00 when I stopped in Sloan for a lunch break. I had a nice conversation with another guy who was passing through and was a cyclist too. His first question was what direction I was riding, well aware of the strong wind that even affected his large car.
When I left near 2:30, the sun was shining and the wind was stronger and I was only doing 7 mph at times. I knew then that Little Sioux was in jeopardy. I was pretty sure I could make it but wasn’t sure I wanted to put forth the effort and come in near dark. There were two campgrounds just west of Onawa and one was a KOA so there was really only one campground, the Lewis & Clark State Park at Blue Lake. So I took Cherry Ave from K42, a 2-mile stretch of gravel that wasn’t too bad except for the dust from passing vehicles. It dead-ended at 175, where I turned east to the park entrance.
As I entered the park I was excited to learn they had a Lewis & Clark keelboat exhibit. Then I was disappointed to learn the campground was closed, surprising since the Stone State Park was open yesterday. Nevertheless I continued about a mile to where the keelboat was and got a good look at it. There was a nearby display with Lewis & Clark memorabilia for sale and I asked a guy working there why the campground was closed. He said they were renovating and planned to open again in November. I asked if it would be possible for me to sneak in for a night. He didn’t think that was a problem and said he would notify the park manager that I would be staying.
I wasn’t sure if he worked for the park but he seemed assured enough to give permission so I didn’t hesitate. I moved in and found a good site in a clump of oak trees at the lake’s edge. The leaves were gold and many were covering the ground, another great fall camping atmosphere. Afterwards I walked to the restroom expecting it to be closed but found it open and everything working. So I cleaned up and settled in for the night.
A hard day due to the strong head wind that ended with a
nice campsite. On the other hand, I
discovered I had lost one of my water bottles that I had in a mesh pocket in my
I had hoped to get packed up quickly in case it rained as predicted but it started drizzling before it was light. I still packed up early to minimize the wet equipment and then retreated to the restroom for some cover. However, it soon became obvious the rain was likely to continue for sometime and I decide I’d rather be waiting it out in a café.
So I donned my rain gear and left for town, 5 miles away. It was really a little too dark to be riding but I figured on light traffic and a short ride. At the I29 interchange there was a restaurant but I pushed on 2 more miles to Onawa where I found a real café filled with locals. I had pancakes and bacon, which was OK, but the main thing was I was inside and warm.
I killed a couple hours in the café including talking with a deer hunter using a muzzle-loading rifle. I also had some excitement. When I entered the café I was pretty wet so I draped my rain coat across the chair next to me at the counter and I placed my fanny pack with my camera and other valuables on the high top chair. Later when a couple was leaving, the woman slipped and grabbed the chair next to me to try to break her fall. In the process she knocked the chair over with my fanny pack containing my camera. It was enough of a jolt that my camera’s battery compartment lid opened and the batteries slid out. So I had a minor heart attack, fearing that the fall could have damaged the camera. Inspection of the camera seemed to indicate that it was OK and I re-installed the batteries and hoped it really was OK. Then I discovered the library was just a block away and I dropped by at 11:00 just when it happened to open on Saturday. So I killed another hour on the Internet.
When the noon siren wailed, I knew it was time to leave. As predicted, the rain had passed through and the clouds started lightening up. When I left I had a NW wind that was great for my southerly direction. In contrast to yesterday, I was easily doing 13-14 mph. My goal for the day was Missouri Valley, 40 miles away. I really would have preferred Council Bluffs but it was 70 miles and I wasn’t sure that was doable, not starting until noon.
However, I was really rolling, almost effortlessly and almost twice as fast as yesterday. And it became obvious after a while that Council Bluffs was a real possibility.
I started on K45 until turning north on 127 at Mondamin and heading towards the Loess (“luss” – German for loose) Hills and then riding along the base of the Loess Hills. These hills are a 200 mile continuous stretch of wind-deposited, fine-grained loam from Sioux City to the northwestern corner of Missouri. I was really a week too late for the fall foliage, which might have been a good thing. There was a fair amount of traffic and there likely would have been much more during the foliage peak period. Still, the ride along the Loess Hills was scenic and only marred by a soft rear tire that I had to pump up.
I really rolled on the flat route to Missouri Valley, easily doing 15-17 mph. In Missouri Valley, I stopped at 3:00 for a short refueling and shoved off, confident I would make Council Bluffs, although I had to pump up my tire again. I rolled easily until Honey Creek where the road headed into the Loess Hills and climbed a bit but it was modest climbing.
I pulled into Council Bluffs at 5:00, making 70 miles in 5 hours. My next goal was to find a motel where I could do some laundry and watch some college football. I wandered along my Adventure Cycling route, which did a good job of getting me through the area. I passed up one motel at an interstate interchange and continued on. When it became obvious I was leaving the area, I doubled back and found another motel near the previous one. Since it was almost 6:00, I took the room for $68, more than I wanted to pay but I was running out of time and this place did have a continental breakfast and was right next to a laundry.
So I checked in and started my laundry as soon as I cleaned up. I ate at a Chinese takeout next to the laundry. I got done just after 7:00 and didn’t get to the Missouri-Nebraska football game until the 2nd quarter when Missouri was leading. An exciting game that appeared lost in the 3rd quarter until Missouri dominated the last quarter and defeating Nebraska for the first time since 1978.
After the game I fixed the slow leak in my rear tire although it was surprising it was only a slow leak, given the sizeable puncture. I also discovered I had somehow managed to lose a second water bottle in two days. That left me with only a large and a regular size water bottle so I would need to get another water bottle for safety.
I got up at 7:00 after less than a great night’s sleep despite a nice bed in a nice motel. I tried to eat $68 worth of continental breakfast but probably only managed about $8. It was a decent breakfast with waffles, cereal, and biscuits/gravy. The temp was 41 degrees so I didn’t hurry to get on the road but finally left around 9:00.
I retraced last night’s route back to the bike path where I had doubled back and resumed from there. Shortly, I met a local cyclist who had seen me cycling last night. He offered a few suggestions on my route before we parted ways. After a few miles on a bike path I picked up US 275 and then L31 as it skirted along the Loess Hills. For a while the ride was scenic along the hills and then L31 crossed to the other side of I29 and was somewhat removed from the hills and the ride became rather uninteresting.
However, I did meet up with a touring couple on a tandem towing a trailer. They were doing the Lewis & Clark St. Louis-Council Bluffs section and were almost done. They warned me that the Steamboat Trace bike path past Nebraska City was muddy and suggested I might want to take the alternate route, the Hamburg option. It was nice to talk to some other tourers, the first ones since Idaho.
As predicted the wind was SW and I had a fairly strong head wind, not quite as strong as two days ago but I was managing only about 9 mph. I decided this had one good effect. It made Nebraska City a reasonable stopping point and I wouldn’t get to the Steamboat Trace until tomorrow, giving it another day to dry out.
Around 2:00 I crossed the Missouri River on US 2, entered Nebraska, and turned off into Nebraska City. I stopped at a Subway for a leisurely lunch and shopped for groceries across the road. There were two campgrounds in the area and I rode past one after crossing the river and it looked like a typical RV park, not particularly attractive for tent camping. So I rode through town looking for the Riverview Marina that would prove hard to find, because the signs were terrible. It took asking several people to narrow in and finally find the place by the river, which turned out to be a fairly nice place with big oak trees. I got a tent site right next to the river for $8 that included a shower.
After my usual tent breakfast I packed up and headed for town where I found Joe’s Corner Café. I knew I was at the right place when the waitress warned me the pancakes were huge. They were and I had 3 of them and coffee for $4.
When I left at 9:00 I headed back to US 2 and headed west. Unfortunately, that was the wrong direction and it was a couple miles before I realized it and turned back. I had not noticed the turnoff to 66 yesterday while scouting out the town and it was easy to miss. It was a gravel road that took me to the unmarked K road, which I guessed had to be the road I needed. It led me through a short scenic hilly section and connected me to the Steamboat Trace.
The Steamboat Trace was a rails-to-trails route of crushed limestone. This was the bike path the tandem couple yesterday warned me about. It was great cycling all alone on the quiet trail with no traffic. It passed though wooded areas, open areas, along a bluff, and close to the river a couple times. There was a 200-yard section of dirt that was no doubt a mess after a rain but was dry now. I was glad I hadn’t gotten scared away by the warning.
After 20 miles the Steamboat Trace ended at Brownville where I picked up 678 to Nemah, now passing through rolling farmland. Continuing on to Falls City there were a couple cases of drizzle that lasted only long enough to make me consider using my rain gear. Then I noticed my rear tire looked soft and inspection confirmed it. I pumped it up, hoping it would hold out until the evening.
When I turned east on US 73 I noticed I had a modest east wind in contrast to the predicted westerly. Then it started raining and it didn’t look like it was going to stop soon so I stopped under some trees near a church and put on my rain gear. My rear tire was soft again and I pumped it up again. When the rain tapered off I took off again and the rain returned. Fortunately I was only about 5 miles from town so I raced in, stopping only to pump up the tire yet again.
When I got to Falls City, it became my obvious stopping point, rather than continuing another 20 miles per my original plan. I rode through town to scope it out and stopped at a pizza place. There was no rain protection outside so I rolled my bike inside. After eating I cycled back to the north end of town where I had seen the only two motels in town. One had a swimming pool, which I didn’t need, so I picked the other one and got a nice room for $30 and settled in for the night.
Later, I fixed the flat in my rear tire. For a while I thought the Armadillo Turbo was a good tire but it seems to have proven itself prone to punctures and not such a great tire. And the motel proved a wise choice as it rained and stormed through the night.
By morning the weather had cleared up. I rode a half mile to the One Stop Café recommended by the motel. It was my kind of place – a small cozy place. When I ordered the banana nut pancakes the waitress warned me they were large so I knew I had ordered right and the pancakes were great. The waitress mentioned they had gotten a number of Lewis & Clark cyclists passing through and asked me to sign their Lewis & Clark guest book.
I left town at 8:45 under clear skies, heading east 10 miles to Rulo. At Rulo I turned south on Highway 7, which paralleled the river, and had a couple of good views of the river along the way. After 19 miles I left Nebraska and entered Kansas. However, when I reached Sparks, 7 was closed for construction and I had to detour 4 miles west to Highland, into the wind with some climbing. I was not a happy camper at that point.
In Highland the detour routed me south on 120. When I came to US 36 to take me back to 7, I rethought the route. I learned long ago in an optimization class at Stanford, based on the space program, that the optimum route was not necessarily getting back to the original route. Instead, one should recompute the optimum route from where you are. If I headed back to 7, there was a wasted U loop in the route. So I decided I could continue south on 120 and eventually head back to 7 and skip the U loop section. This looked like it might make the detour close to a wash. However, my Adventure Cycling map only showed the actual route and didn’t include the Highland area so I was gambling a bit.
Nevertheless I continued south on 120, taking it on faith that everything would work out. 120 continued south and swerved east a couple times. It also was a real roller coaster. Eventually it ended at 20, which I took east 5 miles where it rejoined 7. After I returned home, I used TopoUSA to measure my route. My detour ended up 6 miles longer than the regular route but my detour was 2.5 miles shorter than the signed detour, so I did save something by “optimizing” my detour route.
After rejoining 7, I rode a roller coaster 12 miles to Atchison with a couple of fairly long climbs at the end. In Atchison I stopped after 60 miles right before the bridge for a break at 2:00. When I resumed at 2:30, I crossed the Missouri River into Missouri on a narrow two-lane bridge. There was a lot of bridge traffic with truck traffic so I tried to time my bridge crossing but there was a big semi behind me almost immediately. I cycled as fast as I could up the first half incline but could only do about 10 mph. When I finally reached the other side there were 9 vehicles lined up behind me and I got out of the way as soon as I could.
I continued on US 59 a few miles and then turned south on 45 that seemed to follow along a continuation of the Loess Hills. The road was flat and I was flying along at 16-17 mph. The flats lasted for about 14 miles from the bridge until just before Weston. That was the end of the flats and it was up and down the rest of the way, when I was reminded that Missouri is not a flat state. Even worse than the hills the rest of the way was the road between Weston and Tracy. The road had no shoulder and I was caught in what was presumably rush hour traffic, high-speed traffic that was not fun.
I rode through Weston and headed east to Platte City, another 8 miles. As I rode through Platte City I passed by the library just before 5:00. I didn’t have much hope but I stopped and found the library was open until 6:00. Inside, however, all Internet PCs were in use so I used the restroom before leaving. However, by the time I left the restroom a PC had freed up and I used the Internet for about 20 minutes.
When I left the library I had a decision to make – whether to stay in a motel in Platte City or travel another 6 miles to a campground. There were no motels near where I was in town so I chose to continue on through the hilly back roads. When I got to the campground I discovered it was a resort and RV park and that didn’t appeal to me. So I continued another 8 miles to Smithville, which I had just enough time to make before dark. The ride was nicely scenic with wooded hillsides and farms.
I rolled into Smithville right around 6:30 as the sun was setting and found I had kind of outsmarted myself. The city campground was 2.5 miles off route and I didn’t have enough light to be sure I could find it, given I didn’t know where it was. Smithville also only had a single motel, a Super 8, which meant it wasn’t going to be a great rate but I had little choice. I rode another 1.5 miles to the motel and got a room for $42 that was supposedly a 15% discounted rate. On the favorable side, the motel did have a continental breakfast and an Internet PC. It is interesting that I found Internet PCs in several motels on this trip. These were a real convenience for quick email checking and I suspect Internet PCs may well become a common feature in the near future.
After cleaning up I ate at a Burger King because it was next door and convenient. Then I retired to my room and ate some more from my food stash.
A long day through 3 states, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri, but with a favorable NW wind and a pretty fair amount of up and down climbing.
The Super 8 had a continental breakfast but not a particularly good one but I had to take advantage of it. They did have a waffle maker so I made a couple including a chocolate (burnt) one. Then I used some of my cereal in the room and was off at 8:15.
I headed north on F about 5 miles and crossed the Smithville Reservoir on W and had a couple good views of the lake. Most of the day’s route was a winding, twisting, up and down affair, with more twists and turns than a Bush war justification story. These were on back roads, presumably to avoid the higher traffic on the more direct, major routes.
After 20 miles I stopped at Holt for a mid-morning break. Then I took BB south on one of the most twisting routes of all times. The road bent every 100 yards or so and had a new name. Eventually I reached Lawson and when I headed east on D I had a rare stretch of straight, flat road but that didn’t last long.
I continued on through Wood Heights and on to Orrick, getting dizzy from the turns and ups and downs. Then a few miles from Orrick the route leveled off and I stopped for a break at a mini-mart just outside Orrick. At the start of the day I had my sights on Henrietta and Higginsville as stopping points since they had campgrounds. Now I didn’t think I could make it further than the 20 miles to Henrietta and I headed there. But the route continued flat and I had miscalculated the distance, so when I reached Henrietta and it was only 3:30 I pushed on. Another 5 miles brought me to the narrow bridge at Lexington to cross the Missouri River. I started during a break in the traffic but I had to climb a bit before the bridge leveled off and traffic caught me and backed up behind me. I pedaled as fast as I could and then got out of the way at the other end.
From Lexington it was another 17 miles via a right angle route. I knew it would not be flat like around Henrietta because I could see the terrain difference when I approached the bridge. It was more up and downs with some head wind. My route profile show a big descent near Higginsville but that never materialized, just more up and downs.
I reached town at 5:30 and rode south on 13 where I found a Subway and ate. I also needed to find the city fairgrounds campground and that took care of itself because it was right next to the Subway. I pitched my tent (no charge) and took a sponge bath in the public restroom. Then I went looking for a beer. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a beer, maybe 2-3 weeks. But I couldn’t find a bar nearby so I bought a 22 oz Bud Light at a mini-mart and sat outside drinking it while writing my notes.
The other story of the day besides ups and downs was dogs. They were everywhere. Most were chained or fenced with a few exceptions. One exception seemed bent on doing damage as he gave chase without a smile on his face. He raced alongside and then ran across in front of me. I was sorely tempted to run over him to cure him of his disease but I knew I was unlikely to come out of such an encounter unscathed so I let him live to chase another day.
I ate breakfast in my tent and it was good that I did. When I rode through town on Main Street I stopped at a place that had a number of cars parked around it, a sure sign, I thought, that this was the place. However, the breakfast menu was skimpy and the “pancakes” were a joke, the silver dollar size variety. They were undersized, overpriced, and not very good. Probably the worst breakfast of the trip.
After the disappointing breakfast I rode 30 miles to Marshall on a route with easy undulations but into a NE wind. It seemed to take forever to make the 30 miles to Marshall. When I did make Marshall near noon I hunted up the library and paid $1 to use the Internet. Then I took a quick food break at a nearby Casey’s.
I left around 12:30, somewhat in a hurry since the forecast was for rain in the afternoon and wanted to get into a motel at Boonville as soon as possible. I headed to Boonville on 41, now faced with more ups and downs than the more gentle undulations of the morning. The first 15 miles were east into the wind to Arrow Rock, named because Indians gathered flint from Arrow Rock bluff for arrowheads. Arrow Rock also was a crossing point for the Missouri River on the Santa Fe Trail. I would have liked to check out Arrow Rock but I felt the first sprinkles of the day at Arrow Rock so I passed on through.
At Arrow Rock, 41 turned south and I had some helping wind. The weather gods continued to tease me with periodic drizzle but never enough to require rain gear. Near 4:00 I entered Boonville and picked up US 40 into town. I was surprised to find the Dingle Inn that had rooms for $24. They weren’t great rooms but they had a roof, a bed, and a shower, and The Weather Channel. Since the motel was a mile from food, I left my panniers in my room and rode downhill towards town where I ate at a small Chinese takeout. Then I had to climb back up the hill to my motel, which was much easier on my unloaded bike.
After eating some granola in my room I rode down the hill to town as soon as it was light enough. I picked up a few groceries and then stopped at a café on main street where I had good pancakes, a relief after yesterday’s breakfast debacle.
Just after 8:30 I rode across the Missouri River on a good bridge and picked up the Katy Trail, a rails-to-trails conversion of the MKT, Missouri-Kansas-Texas, railroad that had ceased operations in 1986 and now covered most of the state from just south of Kansas City to near St. Louis. I was worried about yesterday’s rain but the trail was in good shape. It was nice to be on the quiet, peaceful trail with no traffic to contend with. It was also nice to see the Missouri River as the trail periodically rode along the river and I saw more of the Missouri River today than all the previous days combined, not counting the “lakes” in the Dakotas.
Around 12:30 and after 40 miles I stopped at the Soggy River Bottom Saloon in Hartsburg for a break. They had just started firing up their grill when I walked in so I was only able to get a ham sandwich but that was good enough. Talking with one of the bar tenders, I learned they were still recovering from last weekend’s annual Pumpkin Fest with 120,000 people, an amazing figure for such a small town of barely 100 people.
When I left I still had some 50 miles to go if I wanted to make Hermann, my preferred destination. Since I was averaging almost 11 mph, I knew I would be pushing daylight when I shoved off at 1:00. When I reached the turnoff to Jefferson City, there was a marker for the 1993 food when for a time folks could get across the Missouri River between St. Louis and Kansas City only at Columbia, a difficult commute for those with jobs on the opposite side of the river from their homes. Jefferson City also marked a change in the trail. Now Highway 94 paralleled the trail and the traffic noise disrupted the peace and tranquility of the trail. So for some time the trail was not so interesting. Later, 94 moved away and the trail became more scenic and peaceful.
As time passed it became obvious I was going to really be pushing daylight at Hermann. I was doing a consistent near 11 mph while in the same gear virtually the entire day, a testimony to the consistent grade of the trail. So when I reached Rhineland, 7 miles from Hermann, I left the trail and picked up 94, immediately boosting my speed to 14-15 mph on the smoother riding surface. By the time I turned south on 19 towards Hermann, darkness had set in. I turned on my flashing rear blinker and raced for town. At the narrow two-lane bridge across the Missouri River I caught a gap in the traffic and made it across without slowing anyone down, or getting run down.
However, when I pulled into the motel right after the bridge, where I stayed 2 years ago when I rode the trail, I met Craig, another touring cyclist from Iowa City, who had just gotten the last room in the budget motel for $65 on what turned out to be Oktoberfest weekend. This was a low grade motel where I paid $27 for a room 2 years ago so Oktoberfest had more than doubled the weekend rate. Craig, a chiropractor who had driven down to Rocheport to ride the Katy Trail, had gotten this room only because of a last minute cancellation and graciously offered to share the room if I slept on the floor and I accepted. After dropping off our bikes in the room, we walked downtown and ate at a Chinese buffet. Then we had several beers before walking back and calling it a night.
Craig and I walked across the street to breakfast where I had pancakes that were fine but overpriced. It was foggy so I didn’t leave until about 9:45. Craig didn’t leave until later since he was planning to put his bike on an Amtrak train to Sedalia and riding back to Rocheport from there. Once I got across the bridge I took 94 about 4 miles until it crossed the Katy Trail and I picked up the trail again. After about 10 miles the trail ran along the Missouri River and I had more good views of the river.
It was a nice day and a weekend so there were a lot of cyclists on the trail, ranging from families to serious cyclists, and at least one birdbrain cyclist. Later in the day, I noticed 2 cyclists riding abreast behind an oncoming bunch of cyclists. Unfortunately, one of these cyclists was riding in my right hand lane, oblivious to my approach. When he didn’t respond to my first “Lookout!,” I had to yell again before he glanced up just in time to swerve enough that, along with my swerve, we managed to just miss each other. I can only imagine how mad I would have been had we crashed and my bike or I had been hurt one day away from completing a 3,200 mile trip. Of course, I don’t imagine the black snake that I had run over earlier was too thrilled either, but he was pretty well hidden in the shadows of the trail and he was in my lane.
At Augusta I stopped for a noon break at about the half way point to St Charles, my destination. After my break I caught up with 2 young women with panniers. They had stayed at Washington overnight and were on their way back to St. Charles. About 10 miles from St. Charles a Katy Trail ranger asked about my trip. In return I asked about accommodations in St. Charles. Originally, I had planned to camp in an RV park in St. Charles but learned that it didn’t accommodate tents. He, Roland, graciously offered to let me camp in his yard in St. Charles and he gave me his phone number and directions to his house.
Around 3:30 I rolled into St. Charles along the riverfront. I called my brother Andy, who offered to pick me up and return me to St. Charles in the morning so I accepted, and the fact I knew he would have beer at his house had no influence on my decision. We spent the evening where some neighbors had gathered for some photos prior to the evening’s high school homecoming dance and then watching the Missouri-Oklahoma football game while drinking beer.
Andy drove me back to where he picked me up yesterday in St. Charles. Since I was returning to his home at the end of the day, which was the end of the Lewis & Clark trip, I jettisoned my panniers and loaded my backpack with a tire repair kit and some food, making my bike much lighter.
At just after 8:00 I started riding through St. Charles. When I passed by a QT, I stopped for my daily pancakes except this time it was a sausage and egg sandwich with pancakes substituting for bread. It was surprisingly good and I had my daily pancake fix, albeit a small one, under my belt.
I wound my way through St. Charles and stumbled my way to B, which led me to the turnoff to the Golden Eagle Ferry. When I got to the ferry, it had just left but it returned quickly and I made it across the Mississippi River to Illinois for $2. It was a fairly steep but short climb away from the ferry landing and then some more winding via several back roads through some hilly farmland.
After about 10 miles I reached the Brussels Ferry that took me across the Illinois River. The ferry ride was free and quite popular with a line of cars waiting on the other side despite two active ferries. My ferry ride had the distinction of having 15 passengers riding old-time motorcycles about the size of a moped.
On the other side I headed west for a short distance to pick up a bike path east. This bike path was really nice because was it was paved and riding was smooth and fast. About 4 miles brought me to Grafton where there was a gathering of old-timers of the 1800s with people decked out in topical costumes and set up in tents with cooking gear and other artifacts of the times.
I stopped at a mini-mart in town for a bite and continued on. Just outside Grafton the bike path became a signed part of the shoulder of 100 with a lot of high-speed traffic. The path went alongside the Mississippi River with bluffs along the north side of the road. The path took me through Alton and all the way to Hartford to the Lewis & Clark State Memorial Park where I arrived around 2:00 after 56 miles.
The visitor center focused on the preparation phase of the Lewis & Clark expedition in the winter of 1803 at Camp Dubois near Wood River. It had a replica of a keelboat cut in half lengthwise, showing how supplies were stored in the boat. There also was a replica of the log cabins built for the winter of 1803 but the replica was not as nice as the ones at Fort Mandan and Fort Clatsop. Still it was a worthwhile stop and I spent about an hour there.
Then I left to return to my brother’s place and I retraced my way back to Alton on the bike path. I crossed the Mississippi on the Highway 67 bridge that had a bike lane in each direction. After the bridge I continued south looking for Old Halls Ferry Road. After a while I stopped for a quick break. Then when I continued I unexpectedly encountered I270 signs and I knew something was awry. Later I learned that 67 turned right and I had continued straight on 367.
Since I knew the way “home” from I270, I just started following Dunn Road, the frontage road. I stopped at one gas station to query for directions but got no help other than a reference to a QT down the road. When I stopped at the QT, there was no obvious place to lock my bike so I parked it between an outside stack of 12-packs of Dr. Pepper and a large waste basket, where I could keep an eye on it and it would be more difficult for someone to easily grab it. After I scanned a map inside to get my bearings, I grabbed my bike to leave. In doing so my handlebars grazed the stack of Dr. Pepper and a column of Dr. Pepper came crashing down, and for a moment I had a vision of the rest of the Dr. Pepper following suit in domino fashion. Fortunately, only the first column fell and I quickly retrieved the fallen cans and put them back as best I could. Hopefully, someone learned from this that it’s not smart to stack the 12-packs on their thin edge.
From the QT with my bearings set I was able to ride the frontage road until it reached 67 and then I knew my way home from there.
I took advantage of the layover day to visit my terminally ill sister, Dorothy, in Ste. Genevieve. Despite concern about the effects of a growing brain tumor, I was happy to see that she recognized me right away. On the down side, it was hard to visit with someone in bed who now had difficulty recalling things and formulating sentences. After the visit, I returned to St. Louis and visited another brother, Ed, and his wife who lived in Ballwin and were conveniently located not far off my return route. A third brother, Al, and his wife were smart enough to plan a getaway, given advanced warning of my impending arrival in the St. Louis area.
Today was my travel day back home. Yesterday I made reservations with Amtrak to take the train from Alton to Joliet, southwest of Chicago. This train supposedly had roll on bike service that allowed me to take my bike for an additional $10 for a trip total of $30. The train was scheduled to leave Alton at 2:50 pm and arrive in Joliet at 6:27 pm. Since it would be dark when I reached Joliet, I arranged for my friend Dave to pick me up and get me back to Naperville, which I could have ridden if I had had enough daylight.
I left my brother’s house at 11:00 am to give myself plenty of time to make the 20 miles in case I had any problems. I had a simple route of Howdershell to Old Halls Ferry to 67 to get to Alton. I stopped at a QT along the way to get a sandwich and continued on. When I reached the junction of 67 and 367, the intersection I had missed on Sunday, I turned back to see how I could have missed it. This turned out to be a construction area where they were tearing up the exit where 67 veered to the right and I had been so careful about navigating the construction in the midst of a lot of traffic that I didn’t realize 67 exited to the west and had ridden right on by onto 367. In any event it wasn’t a disaster other than the near disastrous Dr. Pepper crash and only lengthened my return trip on Sunday by 3 miles.
After this intersection, I crossed the Missouri River and then the Mississippi River to get to Alton. Then it was an easy jog to Broadway to Washington to College to the small Amtrak station. Along the way I passed Fast Eddie’s, a legendary bar/grill with 99-cent hamburgers. Later I would learn that I could have spent most of the afternoon at Fast Eddie’s.
At the station I picked up my ticket and learned the train was about an hour late. Eventually this grew to almost 2 hours and I didn’t get on the train until 4:35 pm rather than the scheduled 2:50 pm. And the bike roll on service wasn’t what I would have called roll on. I had to lift my loaded bike up the steps to the coach car, which required an helping boost from the conductor for me to get it up the steep steps. I expected that there was going to be a special storage area for bicycles but there wasn’t any such thing. I had to remove my panniers and stash them on the seats of an empty 2-seat section along with my tent and sleeping bag. Then I had to stand my bike on its rear wheel and roll it into the 2-seat section and lean the front wheel on my panniers on the seats. It was an acceptable way to stash the bike but certainly not my idea of convenient roll on. Moreover, the conductor seem rather peeved that I had come on with a loaded bike and wasn’t helpful at all other than the boost he gave my bike to help get it on the coach car.
But I was on and the train ride was fine and uneventful for me but that wasn’t true for everyone. Another guy across from me was traveling to Atlanta via Chicago and Washington DC. To do so he was scheduled to catch a train at 8:45 to DC and he was going to miss that train, meaning he was going to have to stay overnight in Chicago and wait all day until 8:45 the next night to catch his train. Hopefully Amtrak was going to take proper care of him. In the meantime this guy was taking proper care of himself, perhaps anticipating some problem. He had stashed at least a 6-pack of Bud Light in his suitcase and was periodically making withdrawals during the ride to Chicago.
When we got near Joliet, I warned the conductor that my bike package was in pieces and it would take a while to get it off unless they made the train exit right by my bike. Fortunately, they did that and it was 3 quick trips to get my bike, my panniers, and then my tent/sleeping bag off. However, no one was around as I assembled my bike. I had called Dave earlier to warn him that the train would be at least an hour late. By the time I got off at Joliet it was around 9:00 rather than the scheduled 6:27 and the Amtrak station was closed. Then as I was getting ready to guide my loaded bike down the steps to the parking lot below, Dave appeared and helped me. We managed to get my unloaded bike into his car by folding down his rear seats and sliding the bike through the trunk into the rear seat section and loading everything else in the trunk. Then it was an uneventful ride home, arriving around 10:00.
The Lewis & Clark trail was a wonderful trip, for the first 2,200 miles. The scenery of the Columbia River Gorge, the rolling wheat fields of southeastern Washington, the river canyon across Idaho to Lolo Pass, the Bitterroot Mountains and the Big Hole Valley of southwestern Montana, the Yellowstone River Valley through southeastern Montana, and the plains through the Dakotas to central South Dakota were just fantastic. Unfortunately, this spectacular scenery made the remaining scenery from central South Dakota to St. Louis seem mundane by comparison. From a scenery perspective, it would be better to ride from east to west, when the initial scenery would actually be just fine and then it would just get better.
The other reason why the first 2,200 miles were better was there was more Lewis & Clark history along that part of the route, in the form of historical sites and markers along the road. It was always interesting to ride along and have the ride interrupted by a road side marker, explaining some historical site. There were also more visitor centers along the first 2,200 miles: Fort Clatsop where Lewis & Clark spent the winter of 1805-06, Lolo Pass Visitor Center, Pompeys Pillar, Yellowstone-Missouri Confluence, and Fort Mandan where Lewis & Clark spent the winter of 1804-05.
Weather-wise, traveling in the fall turned out just fine. To be sure, there was the first rainy day in Idaho that I would have taken a pass on had I known that it would rain most of the day. And there were some cold mornings during the early part of the ride through the Dakotas. However, overall the weather was fine and generally warmer than normal for the fall. The ride through Oregon/Washington proved to be a continuation of the West’s hot, dry summer, with temps often in the 90s. And unfortunately, the warmth through the southern part of South Dakota led to head winds that normally would have been tail winds. Still, these South Dakota head winds and the one day of rain in Idaho were the only real weather complaints, which is not bad for a 50 day trip. Certainly, no comparison to the variety of weather that Lewis & Clark experienced in their nearly 3 year journey…
Copyright Denis Kertz, 2003. All rights reserved.